Surfing as a Metaphor For Working in Silicon Valley

As a kid, I spent a lot of time on beaches, and not the boring wading-pool sand tubs most people go to: my parents favored big, surfy waves. I quickly learned how to deal with the biggest: you either ducked under them, or surfed over them. Get caught in the frothy, turbulent middle, and you’d wind up with a mouthful of sand.

Working in Silicon Valley is something like that: huge relentless waves of technology crash down on you non-stop. You have three options: you can either try to absorb the full brunt of that wave, reading everything you can, trying to understand the entirety of it, you can duck under it, or you can trust yourself to it, trying to surf it as far as it’ll take you.

Trying to keep up with SV is hopeless, like trying to paddle out without ducking under each wave. Even if you spent your entire life talking to people, reading papers, you’d have no chance of keeping up, and without really having the time to engage (by actually doing stuff besides reading) the best you could hope for is a superficial understanding. Grokking requires doing.

Ducking under the wave, keeping your head down where things are more sedate, is a much more comfortable approach. Things change more slowly in the lower layers of tech development. The occasional tug of a new CPU architecture is nothing compared to the churn in the layers of middleware being constantly built and torn down somewhere above your head. I like hanging out here, its my comfort zone. Unfortunately, it’s easy to drown down here: without poking your head up above the water from time to time, it’s easy to lose your direction and ambition.

Surfing, developing on top of the services SV churns out daily, is a heady experience. Who cares how a new API works, or whether it’ll work tomorrow, just use it! Make that thing you want to make. Surfing is exhausting, and almost always frustrating: things don’t work, aren’t documented, are brittle and crash constantly. They’re not really thought out. But it’s where things get done, these days.

It all makes you want to toss your laptop and open a little bar somewhere. Preferably on a nice, surfy beach.

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